Tell someone you just came out of a sauna and, 83.2% of the time, watch their noses and foreheads scrunch (in all languages, the semiotic connotation is “Ewwww. Gross”). The gymnasium sauna conjures up the most odious of images: sweaty bodies oozing last night’s toxins, pools of bacteria festering in deep cedar crevices, orgiastic bath houses, Finnish people.
But I sauna at my gym. I admit it. Scrunch if you must, but know that I have a routine in all public places where genitals are exposed (my public bathroom ritual is well-documented). The gymnasium sauna is not an imperfect place; in fact, it can be downright carnal and disgusting (not that carnal can not also be pretty great). But, oh sauna, place where almost anything goes, you need reformation. Oh, the things we tolerate in cedar boxes...
Here are my 5 Theses for safe and courteous sauna’ing:
1. Sit on a towel. I’m perplexed by the amount of people who are comfortable sitting bare-assed (and because of the heat: bare-balled) on a place where a stranger also may have sweat bare-assed/bare-balled. I am convinced this activity alone contributes to most of the sauna’s bad reputation.
2. Don’t make eye contact. Look, I know we’re both naked, sweating, and close to meditation, but let’s not ruin it, okay? This is as far as our bond needs to go. Effective saunas are about pretending you’re alone. And while we’re at it, don’t say anything: Yes, it is hot enough for me, and yes, I do think it’s quite a nice thing to sauna after a workout (The no contact rule has been adapted from my previous: “How to Piss at a Urinal in a Civilized Society.)
3. Don’t shave in a sauna. Now this seems obvious, but on numerous occasions, I have seen men using their sweat as shaving lubricant. Stop doing this. Do I need to go into all the reasons why?
4. Don’t eat in a sauna. I’ve never witnessed this one first hand, but a fellow teacher I know who saunas (though it’s a female sauna, so maybe it’s a different world in there) has told me of a woman eating a sandwich in a sauna. The idea of a ham and cheese slowly melting in the steam of a sauna is enough to make me regurgitate last night's toxins. Eating and sweating don’t mix.
a. Addendum to rule 4: Don’t vomit in the sauna.
5. Legs together, both feet on the ground/bench below you. Let’s keep the money shots to a minimum. To get a better idea what I'm talking about, envision Kevin Costner in this picture but with no pants on:
Next week I shall nail these rules to the sauna door at the gym. Like Martin Luther, I hope to begin the reformation of sauna culture, so that we might all sweat in peace.